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Exhibition Work-in-Progress - Activism in London
The end of a fascinating week interviewing activists from across the political spectrum, with photographer partner Laurence Gibson (all photos are his). We’ve met Communists, anarchists, Westminster professionals, environmentalists, ethical squatters and MPs. All want to effect change and each have chosen different ways to get there. This is just a taste of what we found, with a full exhibition planned for 2013.
First Leon (pictured above) and Pedro, squatter activists who now help run Friern Barnet Library as a community initiative. When local councillors closed the doors earlier this year as part of the cuts, Occupy moved in a couple of days later to find an empty Victorian hulk bereft of books. There was also a community mourning the loss of their public library. Now just a few months later, the library is staffed seven days a week by a team of Occupy volunteers, over 8000 books have been donated and the building has come alive. Local families mix easily with the activists. Despite this apparent success, they still face eviction and later this month, a court will decide if the bailiffs need to be called in.
Leon, an imposing but gentle South African with a pensive stare, talked of a “moral imperative” to become an activist. He now focuses full-time on Occupy. Meanwhile Pedro, a charming and eloquent Portuguese man, who lost his cleaning business in Ireland when the recession hit, describes his activist life as “a privilege.”
We also met Janie, a serial protester with pink hair and fizzing enthusiasm. Her Camden flat was a trove of leftist memorabilia - The Protest Handbook, a “Sack Boris” Oystercard holder, anarchic posters and photographs of dramatic stand-offs; memoirs of an activist life which stretches from opposing the National Front in 1970s Coventry, through campaigns for Amnesty International, clashes at the G8, stints in Northern Ireland and to her present role as a legal observer. Even an impressive collection of Penalty Charge Notices has been crafted into a decorative arch above her desk, a simple symbol of defiance. Janie tells us how the local post office can’t cope with the hundreds of parcels they’re receiving each month, addressed to her and containing donations for her latest initiative - pants for Africa. She sends thousands each year to impoverished schoolchildren across the continent.
“Establishment” activist Mark Littlewood follows. His arms are like windscreen wipers and his three-piece suit expands and contracts to keep pace. Now heading up a free-market think tank in Westminster, he has directed campaigns for Liberty, and plotted the successful No2ID campaign with three mates in a pub and a starting fund of a hundred quid. He’s aghast that Westminster controls nearly 50% of our GDP, and takes any opportunity he can to argue for wholesale power-stripping from government bureaucrats. Only this way, he says, can democracy become efficient, and corporations be prevented from corrupting governments.
We’re planning an exhibition about political activism, for showing in London in 2013. If you’d like to take part, let us know. Or if you’d like to be updated when the exhibition opens, sign-up to our mailing list here. Thank you.